Debris, bloodshed, and even causalities scattered the streets of downtown Rangoon last week as a result of demonstrations made by Burmese civilians and monks against their dictatorial government. The dreadful scene served as a physical reminder to the world of the continuous struggle the Burmese have endured against Myanmar’s military government.
The immediate cause of the recent unrest began when the government decided to remove fuel subsides this year, which would increase the price of fuel by 500 percent. Initial demonstrations of protest against the decision were made peacefully by a small group of Buddhist monks in their community. However, the simple act of protest was enough for the military police to arrive and quickly suppress the gathering, leaving three monks injured.
Outraged and furious, another group of monks retaliated, and taking several government officials hostage and demanding a sincere apology from the military government for the violence committed upon the three monks. When they offered no apology, sparks flew between the Buddhist monks and the military government.
Surprisingly, on September 24, anti-government protests by the monks went from 30,000 to a ground-breaking 100,000 people marching in the streets
of Rangoon, Myanmar, making it the biggest anti-government protest in 20 years. This movement became known as the Saffron Revolution. They received global acclaim as well as support from the citizens of Myanmar who also marched side by side with them.
However, the government-issued warnings to stop the illegal protests were ignored. The Saffron Revolution was brutally suppressed on September 26 when the junta, Myanmar’s military government, felt that their 45-year-old supremacy was threatened again.
Living in a monastery is probably the only freedom known to Buddhist monks in Rangoon. As they carry on with their daily rituals of meditation and scriptural readings, far beyond the monastery walls lies a government that controls its people with a severe iron hand. Let us not forget the Burmese protests in 1988 that led to 3,000 people massacred by the country’s military regime, which felt that its power had become threatened. As we continue to sit here in our democratic society, we should not ignore the second attempt that the Burmese people have made as they live in their society of captivity. Our main concern should be that there are many human rights violations in another country, where the voices of people are being suppressed.
The Bush Administration agreed that the recent military crackdown was “barbaric.” Bush also stated that international pressure should be pressed upon Myanmar’s rulers. In addition, Burma Campaign UK has organized an International Day of Action that will take place October 6 at 12 p.m. in London, England. It will be followed at Sydney, Australia; Hong Kong; Norway; Ottawa and Vancouver in Canada; New York and San Diego on different days.
However, this is not the time for Americans to sit back and watch as political officials continuously try to find solutions for this issue. Avaaz.org, a civic organization, has set up an online petition to the Chinese president and also the UN Security Council against the brutal crackdown of the junta upon its citizens. The petition aims at getting 500,000 signatures. People are urged to take action and support the struggle by going onto Avaaz.org. The Burmese people have tried everything to make their voices heard. Now it is time for Americans to listen and partake in their struggle.